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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs / Facilities / Rhizotron

What is a Rhizotron?

A Rhizotron [Greek, from rhiza, root] is an enclosure or exclosure with at least one transparent panel that allows for non-invasive viewing of underground processes, specifically root systems. 

Where is it?

[image:] Exterior view of Rhizotron entrance.The Houghton Rhizotron is an underground facility with 24 windows looking out into northern forest soils. This facility is one of two in the world located in a northern forest ecosystem.

What's belowground?

A timelapse video from the rhizotron.A timelapse video from the rhizotron. -

This 65 second movie represents 2 years of time-lapse images, taken belowground in the upper 10 cm of the soil. Beginning in March 2008 and ending in March 2010, every 8 seconds encompasses an entire season. As soil temperature increases and snow melts, biological activity in the soil increases. During spring Lumbricus terrestris, a non-native earthworm commonly referred to as the Nightcrawler, burrows deep into the soil, pulling dead leaves through the upper soil horizons. As summer approaches, roots begin to grow and soon soil moisture decreases, depicted by the lightening of the soil color. As fall comes to a close, precipitation increases and there is a wetting front moving vertically through the soil (at around 24 seconds). As winter approaches and the snow falls, the earthworms remain active while root growth goes dormant. Spring of 2009 brings conditions similar to the previous year with an increase in soil activity, root growth and a drying front during the summer, and a wetting front during the fall. Earthworms remain active through the winter of 2009-2010.

[image:] Timeline of images from the rhizotron: 0-7 seconds - Spring 2008 - Earthworms are active and soil moisture is high; 8-16 seconds - Summer 2008 - Root growth and low soil moisture; 17-24 seconds - Fall-2008 - Root growth and wetting front; 25-33 seconds - Winter 2008-09 - Earthworm activity; 34-41 seconds - Spring 2009 - Increased biological activity; 42-49 seconds - Summer 2009 - Root growth and low soil moisture; 50-57 seconds - Fall 2009 - Root growth and wetting front;  58-65 seconds - Winter 2009-10 - Easrthworm activity.

Soil moisture and temperature records during the time period of this video are available, along with higher resolution images. This video is a sub-sampling of images taken over the 2 year period (2 images/day, 12 hours apart). Photos are taken every 30 minutes for our time lapse system, for a total of 48 images/day for the past 2 years. Please contact Erik Lilleskov for more information.

Last Modified: 02/14/2011

About the Rhizotron:
Rhizotron Slideshows:

Building the Rhizotron (1.6 mb)

Virtual Tour (1.4 mb)

Rhizotron Introduction (2.9 mb)

(Slideshows are in Powerpoint format - You may download a free Powerpoint viewer from the Microsoft website)

Related Research

[photo:] Bin used to study small-scale ecosystems  in mesocosmThe Mesocosm facility in Houghton, Michigan enables research on replicated small-scale ecosystems.


Lilleskov EA, Mattson W J, Storer AJ. 2008. Divergent biogeography of native and introduced soil macroinvertebrates in North America north of Mexico. Diversity and Distributions 14:893-904.